It was your first birthday party. We put you down on a beautifully patterned splat mat with your own little cake. . .the traditional “cake smash” that has become a family tradition at our first birthdays. You swiped some frosting with your hand and did not like the texture. At all.
And you began to cry. . .and because I am your safe zone and I was sitting at the edge of your smash zone, you crawled over to me, wanting to sit on my lap for comfort.
At first, I turned you around to redirect you back to the cake. You were both interested and repulsed by it all at once. The texture was new to you, you had not yet figured out that the cake was actually something to eat. You were too focused on the unpleasant sensation of gooey stickiness on your hand. I helped you put some in your mouth and you liked the taste, but still not the goo on your hand. You then got it on both hands. Still not a fan of the way it felt. Still intermittently licking the sweet cake and fussing as you explored.
Then I saw it happening in slow motion. You were overstimulated. Too many people. Too much newness. A delayed nap time so that you could comply with MY wishes to entertain the partygoers. You began to cry. Hard. And to crawl up into my lap. Covered in cake from head to toe. My anxiety level began to rise as I saw the smooshed, greasy cake-mess being smeared on my leg, then my pants, then my face. Then someone behind me made a comment and all I heard was the phrase, “a mother’s love.” And I looked at your sad, anxious little face and realized that you needed me more than I needed to be clean. You were sad. You were uncomfortable. You were scared of the newness. . .all to fulfill a tradition that you didn’t ask for. And so, I surrendered. I took a deep breath and pulled you close. I kissed your messy face and felt frosting ooze down my chin. I held your sweet little hand as the sticky cake squished between my fingers. And I felt exhilaration. Joy. And an overwhelming love for the sweet little person you are.
Those at the party who know me very well were amazed. They knew just how far out of my comfort zone it was to allow this kind of mess on my person. I am that mom who avoids Play-Doh because messes make me crazy. Finger painting is maybe a semi-annual event in our house because it takes me a day to work up the nerve to get it out and another several hours to come down from the anxiety of the clean-up. Chaos makes my heart beat too fast. I crave order. Neatness. Clean. Predictability. And having cake smashed all over myself from head to toe does not fit that profile in any way. But I found joy in surrender. Together in the midst of that chaos, we made a memory that I will cherish forever.
I had brought a change of clothes for you, knowing you’d be wearing your cake after the event, but nothing for myself. With your sisters, they smashed their cake in a high chair, carefully confining the mess and making it easy to clean up. Our dear friend who was hosting the party at her house took me upstairs and offered me a clean dress to put on. As I mopped the goo from my neck and face, I found myself smiling rather than grimacing. Because allowing myself to relax in that moment is a milestone I never thought I’d reach. Taking that deep breath and surrendering to the moment felt. . .well. . .beautiful. Remarkable. Joyful. Just. Full. And allowing my heart to fill in such a way is a new experience for me. . .and one I hope to repeat many times in the future. Because you’re worth it, little boy. You’re worth working through the pain of my brokenness to find that place where I can truly be present. Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to feel that kind of joy.